False Start

Few days ago I wrote about being out of my comfort zone when traveling to a foreign country. This feeling continued on to the second day of our visit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as we were totally dependent on logistical arrangements made online with a travel agency located in a city few hours away. My fear of logistical problem did materialize, but in the process we experienced the hospitality of the locals and we tried out tasty local foods. So here is the story…

We got up very early on our full day in Phnom Penh. The tour company that organized our trip in Cambodia had arranged to have a driver coming to pick us up for the day at the hotel at 7 am in the morning. Other than the time, I did not have any other details about the pick up, so I decided to be ready and wait in the lobby few minutes before the scheduled pick up time to make sure that the driver would not miss us.

I was ready to go and went down to the front area of the hotel by 6:40 am. It was still pretty early for the hotel operation. The restaurant was not open yet, and the front desk staff had not arrived either. There were a couple of the hotel staff members at the restaurant setting up the area to start the day, and another hotel staff cleaning the swimming pool area.

7 a.m. — and there was no one coming. I continued waiting for 15 more minutes, and still no one showed up. I started to get concerned, and walked to the street outside to check out, and walked back in. The hotel staff member who was cleaning the swimming pool area noticed that, and asked me if I was waiting or looking for anyone. I told him that we’re supposed to be picked up at 7, but our ride had not arrived yet. I asked him to help watching the front entrance, and to let me know if he saw anyone coming to look for me.

7:30 a.m. — and still there was no driver. By this time I was getting very concerned, so I looked for contact information for the tour company to call. The tour company was based in Siem Reap, and it was still quite early in the morning, so I was not sure whether I would be able to get hold of anyone. I tried calling using my Blackberry which should work in Cambodia (using Indonesian SIM card), but I had difficulty with making the call. So I went to the hotel front desk to get assistance. The front desk staff had just arrived and was in the middle of preparing for the day. When she saw me coming, she stopped her work and helped me dial the tour company’s number. She was very helpful especially in making the initial connection in Khmer before handing the phone to me when she was able to connect me with the tour company contact person.

Fortunately the tour company contact was there to answer our call, and after a few minutes he found out that there was a miscommunication with the driver they arranged for us in Phnom Penh about the start time. Typically day trips in Phnom Penh start at 8 am because the typical first destination, the Royal Palace, was not open until 8 am anyway. Our tour agent changed the start time for our day to 7 am when I told him that we also wanted to visit the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, which was located outside Phnom Penh. Apparently that wasn’t communicated clearly with the driver. Our tour company contact apologized profusely for this mishap, and said that the driver was on the way to pick us up. I told him not to worry; the important thing was that we knew that the driver was coming.

While waiting for our ride to arrive, I saw the hotel staff that I talked with earlier going to the front gate and stopping a food cart that was passing by. He ordered something – breakfast I guess. We had not had breakfast, and the hotel’s restaurant was still closed, so I went outside and asked the hotel staff what it was that he ordered. He said it’s a typical Cambodian sandwich. It looked pretty good, so I asked him to help me order two of those sandwiches for me and Kristi. He helped me translating between Khmer and English as I attempted to communicate with the food cart vendor.

We had the breakfast sandwich (later on I learned it is called num pang sandwich, very similar to Vietnamese banh mi sandwich), and not long after that a gentleman showed up at the gate, looked around, and when he saw me, he mentioned my name. He also apologized for picking us up late, and I told him it was okay. We started later than planned, but in the midst of the mishap, we experienced local hospitality and had delicious local sandwich for breakfast.

The photo below was taken right outside our hotel as I waited for the sandwich man prepared our num pang sandwich.

Num pang sandwich cart

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One thought on “False Start

  1. Tour companies and logistics always make me nervous too. At least everything worked out in the end and you got to experience some nice time with the locals.

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